A Dutchman in Enfield…taverns and turnpikes

Note to my Readers:  Several surnames dominate my knowledge of my mother’s family history.
Tyler is one.  Van Doren another. One of my daughters sports Tyler as a middle name while my other daughter was given the middle name Van Doren.  I can’t exactly say why I chose to do that.  Perhaps I did that because my mother named her children to honor her family members…though I wasn’t consciously duplicating a tradition.  One of my cousins was also given the Peter Van Dorn moniker for a first and middle name.  In fact, he told me at our last family gathering when as a small child, he asked his mother who Peter Van Dorn was, she told him it was the name of her pet rooster.  We have pranksters galore in our family.
Mary Van Dorn Williams’ yellowed obituary is pasted into her daughter’s family bible which is now in my possession and  is one of those archival touchstones that provided me, her great great granddaughter, with the pathway to my Van Dorn heritage.  It has also generated a great passion to learn more about early American history, forge research friendships and locate Van Doorn “cousins”…all of us in search of our prolific and entrepreneurial Dutch forebears.

In fact, I found that our modern day efforts to trace our Van Doorn ancestry had been undertaken by A. Van Doren Honeyman and his genealogical work had been self published more than one hundred years ago in 1908.  He interviewed and  wrote to hundreds upon hundreds of known American descendants of Pieter Van Doorn to account for their data and record it in his genealogical publication resulting in records for almost 10, 000 individuals.

In his preface he writes, ” The labor of the preparation of any historic-genealogical work, especially of a family so large as that treated in this volume, involves the most patient industry, careful study, and a wider correspondence than any other form of literary work.  Except for the interest of blood, the author would have paused in his investigations long ago from sheer weariness.”

Mr. Honeyman’s efforts took more than 15 years of work and in his preface he bemoans the fact that at publication the information was incomplete…”nor would it be for another decade” if he continued the attempt.  So he closed that chapter of his research and writing and published with the hope that some future “supplementary pamphlet” would come to fruition.

So Abraham, I am picking up…as best I can…your mighty task…and connecting with as many American Van Doorn descendants that this age of technology will permit.  I have worked with at least a half a dozen, but two Van Doorn “cousins” stand out.  Eric Waite and Tom Van Doren each have wonderful blogs and are worth a look.  I hope that this post with bring other Van Doorn/Doren/Dorns together to share their recent and more precise efforts. Eric and Tom’s links are listed at the end of this post.

In the meantime, I will tell the tale of my great great great grandfather, Peter Van Dorn…the pioneer…not the rooster.

What’s in a Name?

Jacob Van Dorn Signature

“As early as 1088, or more than eight hundred years ago, the name “van Doorn” was in use in Holland, and, although there were variations in the spelling to a slight extent during the Middle Ages, that form of the name is more general to-day in the Netherlands than any other.
The remote Holland family of the name of van Doorn divided into various branches, but were located chiefly in the province of Brabant and Utrecht. Many members of the family early rose to distinction, were honored as part of the “nobility”, and possessed coats-of-arms. Some of these went into Belgium, when that country was a part of the Netherlands; a very few went to France and to Germany. The great bulk of the stock always remained sturdily Dutch.”
(The Van Doorn Family)

From New Amsterdam to Somerset County New Jersey

Peter’s paternal line came from a long line of Dutch Patroons.  According to Abraham Van Doren Honeyman’s 1909 genealogical publication, “The Van Doorn family (Van Doorn, Van Dorn, Van Doren, etc.) in Holland and America, 1088-1908“, his great great grandfather, Pieter Van Doorn, migrated from Gravesande, Holland before 1659 settling in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.    Like other family history efforts of the time, Mr. Honeyman’s book is a good place to start, but far from complete or accurate and thus I begin to painstakingly research my known and sourced recent Van Dorn heritage from the lush and rolling hills of Cayuga Lake to early American history in New Jersey and New Amsterdam with Holland as a tantalizing journey ahead.

By 1723 many of the Van Dorens had moved to Somerset County from New Amsterdam and were predominantly farmers.  The county was created on May 14, 1688, from portions of Middlesex County and is one of America’s oldest counties.   Most of the early residents were Dutch.  General George Washington and his troops marched through the county on several occasions and slept in many of the homes located throughout the area including the homes of the Van Dorens.  At one time the large Van Doren family held some of the richest farm lands in New Jersey.  In modern day Somerset County, the Van Dorn/Doren/Doorn name remains a notable historic family name.

The American Van Doorn name went through Anglicization during the 1800’s…from Van Doorn to Van Doren to Van Dorn…and sometimes just plain Dorn. My great great great grandfather, Peter, like many of his generation, chose the spelling Van Dorn after leaving his Peapack, New Jersey home and migrating to Enfield, New York  in 1818.

Peter Van Dorn, Pioneer Tavern Owner and Genteel Man (1793-12 Jan 1866)

Peter Van Dorn of Ithaca

Born on the family farm in Peapack, Somerset County, New Jersey in July of 1793, Peter was one of the eight children of wealthy farmer Jacob William Van Doren and his wife, Margaret Hunt.  According to Van Doren family information,  Jacob had attended Princeton University in its earliest years of existence.  Margaret’s father was Colonel Stephen Hunt, a Revolutionary War hero who served as one of George Washington’s staff.

In 1811 eighteen year old Peter married twenty two year old Mary Irwin in New Jersey.  According to Somerset land records, Peter received $1800 and 104 acres of prime farmland from his grandfather, William.  Two years later in 1820, he  had sold off his farmland and prepared to move his young family…daughters Deborah and Mary and son, John…to Enfield, Tompkins, NY where he had purchased land in order to build his tavern.

Many revolutionary war soldiers were given land grants when it became impossible to pay them with redeemable currency.  In 1782, Revolutionary War veterans were issued land by lottery in the Finger Lakes region of central New York (28 townships in the present counties of Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Cortland, Oswego, Wayne, Schuyler, and Tompkins) and from 1789 to 1869 The Holland Land Company was a significant player in surveying New York State and purchasing the military tracts.   The Van Dorns like most families of their period typically had large families and the many children could not all inherit enough family owned farmland to prosper.  New York State was developing quickly  in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s so Peter, like many of his contemporaries, bought their land from speculators most likely from the Holland Land Company and moved their families to find their own fortune. An early search of  Peter Van Dorn’s Enfield land purchase had not yielded the documentation of his land purchase, but the search continues through old archives.

In 1820 Peter established the tavern in Enfield on Mecklenburg Road on what came to be known as the Catskill Turnpike and later Route 79.

“He was a farmer in Chester Twp, Morris Co, NJ from 1816 to 1818 owning 142 acres of land, which he purchased of his grandfather, William, in the former year, and sold in 1818 to Isaac Crater, as per Morris Co. records.  He went to NY State after 1820, settling in Enfield, Tompkins County and afterward built a fine hotel in Ithaca standing in what was known as “Van Dorn Corner”.

“One who knew him well says, “He was a handsome man, noticeably genteel.”

Excerpt from “The van Doorn Family (Van Doorn, Van Dorn, Van Doren, Etc.) in Holland and America.  1088 -1908           Published by Heritage Books in 1908.

Sometime in 1821 Mary and the children had arrived and soon more offspring were added to their family…sons William, Charles H., Norman, Jefferson and finally, daughter, Margaret.  The Van Dorns had left behind the cultivated farms and social graces of Somerset County to become part of the charged and dynamic environment of pioneer life in Enfield, New York.  The ensuing years were ones of challenge and change for the Van Dorn family and our young country and Van Dorn Corners Tavern and the Peter Van Dorn family were an important part of American history.

“The original taverns were most likely log cabins, built shortly after the Catskill Turnpike opened in 1804. They averaged about 20′ by 25′. They would have been replaced by frame structures after local saw mills made slab wood more easily available. Van Dorn’s Tavern is also only described in its last years. It was situated on the south side of Mecklenburg Road and had a barn associated with it. The barn had hidden basement rooms where stolen horses were rumored to be kept and before them, escaping slaves. It was torn down in 1916.”  Enfield Town Historian

Van Dorn Tavern with Henry Waite circa 1920

The photograph to the right is courtesy of Van Doren descendant, Eric Waite.  Henry Waite stands by the New York State historical marker that still stands on the corner.  Henry Waite’s wife, Bertha, was the daughter of Lorenzo Van Doren of  nearby Danby, NY and according to Eric she referred to Peter as “cousin”.  We have not been able to establish the connection as of this publication.  This is the only known photograph of the tavern still in existence and after dating the photo with Eric, it is clear that the tavern stood long after the Enfield historian’s notes.  Thanks, Eric!…and Bertha and Henry.

The tavern had become an important center of  social and political activity during the turbulent 1840’s.  A newspaper article in the Ithaca Daily Chronicle dated September 24, 1847 reported the activities of the Loco Foco Party Convention held at “Van Dorn’s in Enfield”.  Another piece published in January of 1848, reports a resolution which sports such lofty language about demagoguery and democracy that it fairly rattles the spirit.  In addition to providing a gathering site for the political passions of the day, Peter personally played a role in Enfield’s civic life by serving as Enfield Supervisor in 1855 and Overseer of the Poor in 1858.

Youngest child, Margaret Van Dorn, who was born in 1830 in Enfield, was to marry the dashing young sheriff of Tompkins County, Samuel A. Holmes.  Samuel was not destined to be a farmer in the countryside and by 1860 Samuel, Margaret and their three daughters, Mary Julia, Harriet and Carrie were living in Ithaca and Samuel owned a livery.  By 1870 Margaret has passed away and Samuel and his daughters and son-in-law, Abial B. Stamp owned and ran the famous Tompkins House.  She is buried next to her sister, Deborah Van Dorn, in the Christian Cemetery in Enfield, NY.      Her daughter and only child, Norma Van Dorn Stamp married John S. Griffiths, a prestigious New York City attorney.  Their wedding was reported in the New York Times social section.  Norma and John lived in New York City.

Juliette Griffith Brooklyn Eagle photo

Daughter, and only child, Juliette Holmes Griffiths married Burr Burton Mosher, a well-known pediatric surgeon in Brooklyn and Long Island, NY.  Dr. Mosher was a graduate of Oakwood Seminary in Union Springs, Cayuga County NY where his family were members of the Quaker community.  Juliette was an accomplished pianist when she met Dr. Mosher in Brooklyn and was many years his junior.  Dr. Mosher was killed in an automobile accident in 1921 and young Juliette was on her own as a widow.  The 1930 census finds her widowed and at age 38 in Houston, Texas.  She is in Hermann Hospital and her occupation is listed as an entertainer employed at a music store.

Mary Van Dorn Williams Obituary

Pictured left is the obituary for Mary Van Dorn Williams which is  pasted into the  Purdy-Williams family bible. You can faintly make out the dates written in pencil at the top.  My great grandmother,  Elizabeth Williams Purdy, Mary’s daughter, wrote the dates on the obituary and pasted it into her marital bible.  The grandchildren:  Elizabeth “Libbie” Mary Johnson Van Dorn was the surviving daughter of Mary Lorinda Williams Johnson who  married a William Van Dorn nearly 25 years her senior and her mother Mary Lorinda’s first cousin.

W.P and B.S. Purdy are Elizabeth’s sons Wilmot and Bert (Burt) S. Purdy (my maternal grandfather) and the three great grandchildren are Burt’s daughters; Elizabeth, Kathryn and Mary Purdy.

Authors Note:

As you probably already know….but it bears retelling….how our ancestors traveled is a fascinating subject.  Since my great great great father, Peter Van Dorn built his tavern in Enfield in 1820 along the Catskill Turnpike, I took a look at what has been written about that early critical road.  Once I “stepped back” and realized what a role the Turnpike systems played before the building of the Erie Canal, I could envision where many of my other ancestors traveled from New England and the Hudson Valley to their settlement in Central New York.  So much of the migration became suddenly clear to me…after all they wouldn’t be slogging through the dense woods with wagons full of personal belongings…dodging trees and fording streams…avoiding bears!….so if they traveled overland….where were the trails?

Reading the history of New York State and the recounting of  the Sullivan Campaign as it cleared out the Iroquois nation, revealed the many early trails and “turnpikes” were actually Indian trails.  Today there are “road trips” for touring the Catskill for history buffs…with stops along the way to explore historical sites.  When I visited Enfield this past year, I stood where Peter Van Dorn’s Tavern existed…and again down the way to the site of the Williams Mercantile at  Applegate Corners. It is still country…but the hard packed dirt road over which wagons and stagecoaches once traveled is now a ribbon of macadam.    For a moment when I was very, very still…I could hear the drum of hooves and the shouts of children as the wagons and stagecoaches arrived.

The Chanticleer of Ithaca New York

Oh…and cousin, Peter…if you read this….I think I may have solved the rooster mystery.  We had drinks at the landmark tavern….the Chanticleer in Ithaca in 2009.    Remember?  Case closed.

Author: Deborah Jane Martin-Plugh, great great great granddaughter of Peter and Mary Irwin Van Dorn.



The Van Doorn family (Van Doorn, Van Dorn, Van Doren, etc.) in Holland and America, 1088-1908 (1909).  Abraham Van Doren Honeyman.  Plainfield, New Jersey.  Collection University of Wisconsin – Madison